Saturday, August 28, 2010
THE CORONER'S LUNCH by Colin Cotterill
The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill has a lot to recommend it.
It has an unusual setting--Laos in the mid-1970's; a compelling main character--72-year-old state corner Dr. Siri Paiboun; two wonderful sidekick characters--Paiboun's two assistants; and a complex and unusual story.
Besides that, this book is humorous.
This wasn't an easy book for me to follow. The unfamiliar names alone caused me to struggle to keep track of everybody.
But this story of the murder of an important official's wife, along with a somewhat related crime, the assassination of some envoys from Vietnam, was skillfully written. It kept my interest to the end.
The revolutionary Laotian government is incompetent. Sometimes, as I read the book, I broke down laughing.
At one point early in the book, Siri is talking to Civilai, his closest friend in the politburo. Paiboun and Civili share their lunch hour, eating their take-out lunches while sitting on a log beside the river.
"Then there's the ongoing puppet scandal."
"The Party ordered the puppets at Xiang Thong temple in Luang Prabang to stop using royal language and said they had to start calling each other 'comrade'."
"Quite right, too. We have to show those puppets who's pulling the strings." Civili hit him with a lettuce leaf. "What happened?"
"The local party members locked them up in their box, and they aren't allowed out till they succumb."
"That'll teach 'em."
This book has many humorous passages like that one. Yet, those same, seemingly incompetent government officials exploit and kill people. Some of them are dangerously cunning. And they would have gotten away with it if it were not for the smart and stubborn old doctor.
There is one other aspect of this book. The main character, Siri Paiboun, has terrible dreams. He sometimes communes with spirits. It is a part of his personality he hides. He is a medical doctor trained in France. Supposedly he is a skeptical, scientific man.
So, as I said at the beginning, this book has a lot to recommend it. If you are looking for a different kind of mystery story, you might try The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill.